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Supreme Court Blocks Warrantless Use of GPS

Justices may yet have to rule on tracking cellphones, however.

by on Jan.24, 2012

You can use that cellphone to track a lot of things in your life. But can police use it to track you?

Frustrated police were confident Washington, D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones was deep in the illegal drug trade, so they hid a small GPS tracking device in his Jeep that eventually led them to suburban safe house Jones used to stash drugs and cash, ultimately landing him a life sentence.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with an appeals court that overturned Jones’ conviction, contending that police need a search warrant to use GPS technology to track criminal suspects.  It’s one of the most significant rulings on the use of state-of-the-art technology by law enforcement, but the unusual, unanimous decision by an often fractious court leaves open a number of questions that the Supremes may yet have to deal with.

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Most notably: can police legally follow the movements of a suspect using technology that can track a person’s cellphone?

“By attaching the device to the Jeep…officers encroached on a protected area,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking for the court, which ruled the use of the device violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.